All Writings
April 23, 2005

Hating America: A Threat To National Security

Nearly four years have passed since 9/11 and yet hatred toward America, especially in the Muslim and Arab world has intensified, so much so that tens of thousands, propelled by these feelings, are not just motivated to kill indiscriminately but die without hesitation. A number of reasons can provide the “rationale” for this kind of behavior. To understand the depth of the hatred toward the United States, we must first consider what precipitates such sentiments and precisely how hate infused with religious zeal is used to spread anti-Americanism, transforming people psychologically to the point where they are ready to commit unspeakable crimes. Certainly, continuing rise of anti-American sentiments impedes U.S. political maneuverability and undermines its influence, with potentially disastrous implications for its strategic national interests.

Hate is extremely easy to teach. Hate is irrational, generated from a narrow perspective. Hate prevents the individual from coming to any objective perception of the truth. It is durable and inveterate because it is both a substitute for feelings of inadequacy or failure and an outlet for the management of discontent and despair. The individual’s hatred of his own conditions is therefore easily transferable to hating others whom he can conveniently blame for his misfortune. Dictators and extremist religious leaders have long since learned to use hate as a unifying element to mobilize the masses against their enemies–Nazi Germany and now anti-Western Islamic radicals are perfect examples. When hate is sanctioned by religious fanaticism and nourished by conditions of idleness, poverty, and neglect, it becomes an integral part of religion itself and a formidable force for provoking and inflaming violence. Moreover, unlike hate evoked by conflicting political ideologies, hate emanating from religious zeal is not subject to rational discourse. The indoctrinated become intoxicated with feelings of piety; they grow fearless, undeterred by every danger, even death. Forged in the furnace of hate, they emerge as fanatic believers in the cause, resistant to outside influence because they feel shielded by a divine power and their belief that they will achieve martyrdom once they perform the ultimate deed. Committing an act of violence against the United States or making Americans suffer only briefly satiates their hateful burning thirst.

Arab and Muslims hate America for different reasons, but according to several recent polls taken in many Arab and Muslim countries, 85 to 90 percent of the people have extremely negative views of America. Hating America is fashionable in this part of the world and few dare to say anything positive. For the purpose of this discussion, I distinguish among seven sources of hatred:

1- America as an imperial power: As part of the Western hemisphere, America is at best suspected by certain segments of the Muslim and the Arab world as embodying the imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and the rest of the “isms” long associated with the West. Seen in this light, the United States offers nothing to them except to become the object of their resistence and discontent. America’s ascendency to superpowerdom has added fuel to the already charged anti-imperialist atmosphere. According to this view, America’s supremacy has led it to assume the self-appointed roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury regarding events that affect the welfare and well-being of other members of the international community and in the process grants itself the license to act at whim without considering the interests of other nations. America is seen as unilateralist, readily intervening in the internal affairs of other nations, seeking only to protect its narrow interests and ignoring the hardship it inflicts on the people and nations involved. The two Gulf Wars, and the hard-core policies toward states like Iran, North Korea, and Syria, are frequently cited as recent examples that continue to provoke anti-imperialist instincts in the region.

2- Arrogance: The United States is seen as an arrogant and morally decadent state that takes other nations for granted while paying no heed to their real problems. Arab and Muslim extremists accuse the United States of demeaning, humiliating and inconsiderate policies that negatively affect their lives. America is further accused of being motivated by narrowly defined national security concerns. For example, although many Arab states supported the first Bush administration in 1991 in its effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, they also believe that the United States is exploitive and that it was (and still is) motivated by its oil interests rather than concern for Kuwaiti or Iraqi freedom. Recently, this view was strongly echoed by Nabil Abu Shakra, the President of the Lebanese Cultural Summit in Paris. And in a recent conversation I had with him he insisted “That American arrogance glaringly manifests itself by the pervasiveness of its economic outreach and how America flaunts its wealth and manipulates the economic and financial affairs of other nations.”

3- Corrupting culture: More than anything else, Muslim religious radicals fear the pervasiveness of American culture and what they perceive as its disastrous influence on Arab and Muslim youth. Shiek Yousef el-Hassan, a Hamas leader in the West Bank, sees American culture, however it manifests itself–in music, clothing, literature, the arts, and the like–as implicitly and explicitly overshadowing, corrupting, and devaluing indigenous cultures and their way of life. That this concern over the American cultural invasion has been brought into sharp focus is primarily due to the Internet and the technological revolution. Arab states like Saudi Arabia and many Muslim countries like Iran are trying only with limited success to combat what they view as American apostasy and abandonment of basic moral tenants and so shield their “innocents” from corruption. The awareness that this cultural battle may be lost because of the younger generation’s attraction to Western “modernity” adds to the frustration and thus the vehemence of anti-American sentiments.

4- Self-indulgence: The United States is also seen as self-indulgent, operating from the vantage point of America as the center of the universe. Uncaring, it neither understands nor shows any interest in understanding other people’s needs, culture, aspirations, or the problems that impact their lives so profoundly. “America acts only when American interests are at stake,” observes Samir Ahmed, former Director General of the Union of Palestinian Writers. As proof, he points to “Washington’s consistent support of corrupt Arab regimes such as the Gulf States, and Egypt.” Arab critics also charge the U.S. with being indifferent to the evils occurring elsewhere–the genocide in the Sudan and earlier in Rwanda, as well as indifference to disease and starvation in other African nations. America is for Americans while the rest of the world gets the crumbs. For the past five decades America has garnered other negative appellations–the exploiter of Arab lands and peoples.

5- Lack of evenhandedness: One of the more common accusations leveled against the United States is its failure to be evenhanded in its foreign policy. America is accused of favoring Israel over the Arab States, specifically the Palestinians, and of not discharging its responsibilities impartially in the region. Critics attribute the perpetuation of the Palestinians’ homelessness to American indifference to the plight of the Palestinian people. They cite too the continuing sanctions against Iraq up to the ouster of Saddam Hussein which caused tremendous hardship to the Iraqi people who continue to suffer today after more than two years of occupation. In a recent discussion I had with Abd el-Halim Mohammed, Assistant Director of the al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, he cites American pressure on Syria for its noncompliance with UN resolutions as another glaring example of the lack of evenhandedness. “Israel,” he insists, “has never been forced to comply with any UN resolutions against its policies, such as the return of the occupied territories.”

6- America as a “rogue” state: Whereas the United States has over time accused several Arab or Muslim nations like Syria and Iran of being rogue states, most Arab and Muslims feel that America is one itself. They view both Gulf Wars which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, as criminal acts. They accuse the United States of sanctioning the Israeli occupation and Israel’s hard-line policy that includes target killing as a way of dealing with Palestinian resistence. They point to the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu- Ghraib and the indefinite detention without trial of hundreds at Guantanamo as clear evidence of America’s consistent violation of human rights and crimes against humanity. The Palestinian poet Taha el-Motawakel is emphatic in his condemnation: “America should be the last country in the world to advocate human rights” he told me as we argued the problem, “when in fact it is the greatest violator.”

7- A blind envy: Finally, the United States is envied because of its wealth, freedom, outreach, and immense human and material resources. Envy of America extends to its economic and military power and ability to wield them almost at will. American visitors to Arab and Muslim countries are easily visible, immediately recognized by their deep pockets. Too often, they make no effort to show modesty. When both the reality and the myth of America are juxtaposed against the immediate reality of deprivation and hardship in the Middle East, the result is a combustible stew of envy, deep resentment, and hate. Paradoxically, America is embraced because of its riches and power and envied because of its wide appeal.

Put all these together and it’s not hard to see how America becomes the target for its detractors. From time immemorial leaders of all political and philosophical persuasions have attempted to blame others for their own shortcomings and endemic problems. The bigger the problem they faced, the larger and more significant the “responsible” party had to be. From the Arab and Muslim perspectives, the United States represents all that is bad and evil in their societies not simply because it is a superpower with unprecedented influence, but because its power is so visible and domineering. In addition, the media in many of these counties–for example, in Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Libya join in the official anti-American crusade, feeding the public the same dose of fallacies and misperceptions that their respective governments dish out.

Although in June of 2003 an Advisory Group on Public diplomacy for the Arab and the Muslim World under the chairmanship of Edward P. Djerejian was created, the Group mandate was strictly limited to public diplomacy. That is, the group was unable to recommend any policy changes which lay at the core of the problem. The second major issue was funding. The Group found that funding for all public diplomacy programs amounted to $600 million in 2002 and that funding left for outreach programs in the Arab and Muslim world was only $25 million. “To say that financial resources are inadequate,” said the report,“is a gross understatement.” Unfortunately not much has changed since the Group reported on October 1, 2003 that “The United States today lacks the capabilities in public diplomacy to meet national security threats emanating from political instability, economic deprivation and extremism, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.” In another section the Report said that public diplomacy requires a “Seriousness and commitment that matches the gravity of the approach to national defense and traditional state to state diplomacy.”

While the Group made some very useful recommendations, including dramatic increases in funding, additional professional staff versed in Arab and Muslims cultures, better use of the information technology, helping Arab and Muslims to gain access to American education, translation of the best American books and increased professional and cultural exchanges, these and many other recommendations are hardly adequate to meet the real challenge America is facing.

What bin-Laden started is nothing less than an anti-American revolution in scores of Arab and Muslim nations. Terrorism is only one manifestation of this revolution. The deeper and more insidious problem for America is the hatred inflaming the masses. The United States cannot use force to combat this. Regardless of the validity of their arguments, and whether the Arab and Muslim perception of America is right or wrong, the present administration must deal with them as if they were true. Indeed, this is an ideological cultural war–a war that cannot be won by muscle. In fact, the use of mostly brute military power has only heightened the levels of resistence and violence while further mobilizing the masses against everything America stands for.

Successfully battling such hate will prove to be much harder than waging war in Iraq and the war on terrorism will never be won unless the United States changes the social and political environment where hate and blind religious fanaticism fester. Changing minds and winning the peace in a sea of deep seated hatred cannot be done on the cheap. Moreover, Arab and Muslim nations must be tackled on a nation by nation basis. There is no wholesale public diplomacy. The administration should appoint a permanent commission composed of top-notch Arab and Muslim scholars and diplomats with extensive expertise in Middle Eastern and Muslim affairs to monitor and make policy recommendation to prevent this ideological cultural war from becoming far more violent and continuous, with untold consequences. If the September 11 attack warranted the creation of a Congressional commission to investigate what went wrong and came back with sweeping recommendations costing tens of billion of dollars, surely the intensified hatred for America which precipitated the 9/11 attack in the first place warrants equal, if not more, urgent treatment. Why must America wake up to another 9/11 attack to realize where the root cause of the danger lies?